We've all heard the proverbial phrase "time is money." What does it mean for food consumption patterns though? When looking at the research about food affordability, most projects just look at the monetary cost of food. Even the Thrifty Food Plan (TFP), which almost all nutrition assistance is based on, serves as a standard for eating a healthy diet at an affordable cost, but neglects to look at the time cost of food.
Time is a meaningful part of eating though. According to the ERS Eating and Health Module of the American Time Survey, on an average day Americans over 15 years old spent 67 minutes eating and drinking as a primary activity. They also spent 23.5 minutes eating and 63 minutes drinking beverages while doing something else. Using data from this same survey, George Davis and Wen You of Virginia Tech published their article Not Enough Money or Not Enough Time to Satisfy the Thrifty Food Plan? A Cost Difference Approach for Estimating a Money-Time Threshold in the April 2011 issue of Food Policy, answering the question: Is time or money more constrictive to eating a healthy diet? The focus of their study is single headed households.
Davis and You used Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals published by the USDA and designed to meet the TFP's budget and nutrition standards for their time estimates. The authors show that time, not money is more constraining when trying to reach the Thrifty Food Plan goals as individuals spend more than enough money, but 2-8 hours less in food preparation than necessary. When the cost of time is included the "average household needs 40% more money to meet the TFP guidelines," and only 13% of individuals were meeting them. The authors recommend the best way to meet these goals is to develop recipes for the TFP that take less time to make, as encouraging people to spend more time preparing food is unlikely to be successful.